Talk it to death

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  April 10, 2013

Eliot Cutler is a bigger boob than Paul LePage.

LePage, Maine's Republican governor, throws infantile tantrums and has the political awareness of deep-fried hake. Even when he's right on the issues (and he often is), his haphazard approach usually renders him ineffective and, sometimes, counterproductive. If LePage is on your side, you start at a serious disadvantage.

Unless your opponent is Cutler.

The millionaire independent from Cape Elizabeth came close to defeating LePage in the 2010 gubernatorial race, not because he offered a credible alternative to the GOP nominee's bombast and blather, but because the Democratic candidate — whatever her name was — never showed up. Few people cast ballots for Cutler. They were just voting against LePage.

Nevertheless, Cutler is again running for governor in 2014 on a platform that consists mostly of not being Paul LePage.

He's right. He's not. While Cutler is slicker and more articulate than LePage, he differs from the governor in fundamental and important ways. Primarily, the two men can be distinguished from each other thusly:

LePage has clear stands on the issues.

Cutler has almost none.

Let's take the question of whether Maine's minimum wage should be increased. LePage is opposed. He'll veto the bill the Democrats are pushing through the Legislature. No ambiguity.

Where does Cutler stand? According to an interview on WGAN radio on March 28, he's not sure, because the problem "requires a much more strategic and sensible answer than just raising the minimum wage." That same day, he told the Portland Press Herald he favored "a plan and a strategy that will get more workers back at the top of the wage levels instead of focusing on the bottom."

What's that mean? I suppose Cutler could be advocating for a law requiring fast-food joints to start paying their employees $25 an hour. But I suspect what he's really saying is he doesn't want to take a firm stand on a controversial issue, so he's doing what weasels always do, which is to claim that such a complex matter requires a more comprehensive approach involving a special commission of experts who'll study the problem long enough so most people making more than minimum wage will forget all about it.

This is hardly an isolated example of Cutler's refusal to choose a side. On the controversy over the debt the state owes to its hospitals for caring for poor people, Cutler told WGAN he wants to make sure hospitals "get paid off in the right way." What's that? "I would try to settle it in a very different way [than LePage]," he said. The state needs to "move in the direction of getting it done."

Huh?

If you're confused, take heart. That answer is nowhere near as incomprehensible as one he gave in a 2010 radio interview on how to reform the health care system. "We have to stop paying for procedures," Cutler said, "and start paying for outcomes."

On education, Cutler is equally elusive. He endorsed LePage's pick of Stephen Bowen as state commissioner of education, but reverts to vagueness when it comes to Bowen's policies encouraging virtual charter schools and other alternatives to public education. During his gubernatorial campaign, he told a radio interviewer he supported "massive reforms," including merit pay for top teachers. He wants a longer school year, but he's also called for big cuts in spending on education at all levels, saying the state doesn't receive enough value for its investment. Even so, he's against school consolidation — except he'd merge the University of Maine System and the Maine Community Colleges.

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